Netta's Research on the:
History of the Railroad in Henderson County, Kentucky
The Henderson Depot built in 1901

The first sign of interest in the railroad in Henderson County began in 1832 after the exhibition of the Thomas BARLOW engine.  In 1837 the Henderson and Nashville Railroad was incorporated.  A charter was granted in Tennessee in 1847 to build the Henderson and Nashville Railroad Company.  On 02 Jun 1853, the city of Henderson authorized Rev. Joel LAMBERT, President of the Henderson Railway to construct a tram road over Fourth Street to the Ohio River Wharf.  Unexpected difficulties and the Civil War halted progress at this point. 

            Sentiment was finally converted in favor of the railroad and on 20 Aug 1860, when the first rail of the Henderson & Nashville Railroad was laid on the old depot grounds in Henderson, there was a great celebration.  The first spike was driven by Captain James  CLAY.  The Mechanics Brass Band furnished the music and Colonel John W. CROCKETT and C. M. PENNELL delivered glorious and enthusiastic speeches.  By 04 Oct 1860, the first five miles of track were laid before the War Between the States halted progress once again.

               Henderson’s cost for building the Henderson & Nashville railroad was $100,000.00.  The city made its first installments in 1860.  In 186 Evansville, Henderson & Nashville Railroad Company was incorporated.  A capitalist from Henderson County, Mr. John Henry BARRET took his own money and bought a locomotive engine and had it shipped to Henderson by boat.  The BALDWIN locomotive, Engine No. 1  arrived on 30 Jan 1869.

            Later in March, 1869 the track was completed to Madisonville, Kentucky and on 20 May 1869, a grand barbecue was held in the warehouse of MARSHALL & Company and a festival was given at the fairgrounds by the city to the people along the line, in honor of the completion of the road to Madisonville.  It was two years later in 1871, that the tracks were finished to the Kentucky-Tennessee state line at Guthrie, Kentucky.  At Guthrie they could connect to the Edgefield and Kentucky railroad which had been laid in 1859.  This completed the rail line between Henderson and Nashville, Tennessee.  This gave Henderson a rail connection to the eastern and southern part of the United States making travel to larger cities much easier.

              Until the Henderson rail line was connected to another rail line, there was no need for a depot.  Passenger stops were now beginning to open all along the rail lines.  In Henderson County stops were opened at Busby, Robards and Sebree.  Before long, the railroad merged with the St. Louis and Southeastern Railway Company. 

            Henderson became a major railroad town in 1871 with the addition of a round house; machine shop ; carpenter shop; blacksmith shop ; and a paint shop .  The buildings cost $13,000.00, the machinery $4,000.00, the hoist cost $4,500.00 and was one of only three in the United States; capacity 100 cars per day.  Total cost of all, $31,500.00.

             News of 28 Feb 1871, The Nashville Union and American Newspaper is rejoicing over the completion of our railroad says:  “The railroad is completed to Henderson and today the first train from this city will go through.  The completion of this road is cause of jollification at one or both ends of the line.  What says Henderson?  Henderson stands ready and willing to extend the warmest courtesies to her neighbors along and at the end of the line.”

             The weak point in this railroad line, however, was the fact that there was no bridge across the Ohio River at Henderson, Kentucky, passengers and freight had to be ferried across by boat.  This greatly hindered operation and frequently ice in the river cancelled the service altogether.  Shortly after acquiring the property the L&N Railroad took steps to remedy the deficiency.  

Some Noteworthy Events:

            09 Feb 1872, The Henderson Bridge Company was incorporated by an act of the General Assembly of Kentucky. 

            1873 A freight depot  was built. 

            1879 Once again the St. Louis & Southeastern was bought out.

            1881 The train bridge across the Ohio River was started

            31 Dec 1932 the present double-tracked structure was built

            Other small rail lines were built in the area connecting outlying areas to the Henderson rail line.  Many of these lines transported coal.  Over the years most other rail lines were absorbed into the L&N Railroad lines.  These rail lines carried many different kinds of projects. 

            William C. HANDY,  “Father of the Blues”,came to Henderson in 1888.

            Liberty Bell was carried by rail through Henderson.

               The depot that still stands today was built in 1901.  Although the names of the actual builders of the depot are not currently known, it has been speculated that the chief engineer of the railroad at that time approved all plans which were used.  Therefore, Richard MONTFORT (1854-1934), the first engineer of the L&N Railroad Company, was at least partially responsible for its design. 

            The depot was entered into the National Register of Historical Buildings on 14 May 1980.  At the time of the application the owner of the land was listed as c/o Mr. R. A. IRVINE, Vice President for Real Estate, Illinois Central Gulf Railroad, 233 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, 60601.  The owner of the building was listed as c/o Mr. K. C. DUFFORD, Vice President Operations, L & N Railroad, P. O. Box 32290, Louisville, Kentucky 40232. 

            The depot was more distinguished than the depots typical of small railroad town and has served as the departing and welcoming home place for many servicemen.  At the height of World War II, 28 passenger trains passed through Henderson daily.  Politicians use to travel by train to campaign for office.  The candidate would stop at cities along the way to speak, these trips were called “whistle stop tours.”  Presidential candidates to visit Henderson by train included Warren G. HARDING in 1920, Harry S. TRUMAN and Thomas E, DEWEY in 1948 and Dwight D. EISENHOWER in 1952. 

            As air travel increased, passenger trains lost a great deal of business.  When first opened, the amount of money handled each month was about $5,000.00.  The last passenger service in Henderson was in 1971.  With the growth of Evansville Howell yards and the end of passenger service to Henderson, there was no longer a need for switch and signal operators in Henderson.  Therefore, in August 1978 the offices of the old depot were vacated.  

            The depot was scheduled for demolition on 01 Oct 1979.  The GOODLET Wrecking Company had been hired for the demolition.  The story about the demolition was covered by The Gleaner newspaper.  Several citizens called Frieda Dannheiser, a member of the Henderson Genealogical & Historical Society, to see if she could help save the depot.  Mrs. Dannheiser applied for an extension of the date for razing this old building.  She immediately started working to get the Union Station Depot declared an official historical landmark by the KENTUCKY HERITAGE COUNCIL  The depot itself was bought from the L&N Railroad for $1.00.  The land around the building was donated to the Historical Society

            The site of the present station when purchased was a depression, which was later filled in the required depth.  When it was dedicated and thrown open to the public on 01 Jul 1902, the three stations then in use were abandoned.  The buildings were either utilized for other purposes by the various companies or the materials dismantled and rebuilt elsewhere.

            The cost of the depot was about $25,000.00 and that was at a time when labor and materials were much cheaper.  The contract was let to a Henderson firm, BAILEY & KOERNER, and the result of their skill stands as a monument through the years.                    

          Besides serving its intended purpose, the depot was an architectural work of art.  It was literally the front door to Henderson, Kentucky.


  Researcher:  Netta Mullin, Vice President and editor of The Legacy


Important Links  

The complete list of original employees 

Source Notes    Netta's Shoulders Research 

Henderson Genealogical Society